Let’s go back to March, when we were getting ready for this season and coming off a truly disastrous 2020 campaign in which Boston was one of the very worst teams in all of baseball. The expectations for this team, as we all know, were low. Many had them around .500, others (me) a bit below that; an improvement from the previous season, but still with work to do. But in those predictions, there was an acknowldgement that, if the rotation stayed moderately healthy, you could squint and see this team being on the fringes of the wildcard conversation. This was largely because one could reasonably expect this offense to be good enough to carry them to those modest heights.
Well, here we are in the middle of October, the rotation stayed remarkably healthy, and they are well beyond the highest ceiling people were carving out for this roster. Ultimately they did sit on the fringes of the wildcard race by the end of the season, but their path to get there was not the expected one, and their path after it has gone well beyond where anyone could have guessed. But the one thing we did get right is that the offense is the one bringing them, and their locked in performance against the Rays punched their ticket to the ALCS.
Now, we should certainly be careful in not dismissing the pitching out of hand, because there were great performances there as well. Nick Pivetta has gotten heaps of praise from us here at OTM. Tanner Houck’s Game Two performance was otherworldly. Garrett Whitlock has been elite. Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez both had strong starts in the final two games. Ryan Brasier didn’t look great in the last game, but made big pitches leading up to that one. You don’t win a playoff series by being one dimensional, and the pitching deserves a ton of credit.
But really, if we’re carving out one primary reason they won this series, it’s the bats. Boston scored an average of eight runs in their three wins. And yes, they did get shutout in the first game of the series, but even then there were signs. On the box score, Shane McClanahan dominated the Red Sox, but they hit a ton of hard-hit balls. In fact, they hit 10 balls at least 100 mph in that first game. (This is rounding anything 99.5 mph and up as 100 mph.) Tampa Bay’s defense, to their credit, played great and their positioning was top notch, but the Red Sox had to just keep doing what they were doing and it would all work out okay.
That’s exactly what happened. They upped that number of 100 mph batted balls to 12 in Game Two, and then 13 in each of the next two games. And no matter how good Tampa Bay’s defense is, and no matter how borderline supernatural their positioning appears to be at times, if the Red Sox are swinging the bats like they were, with the amount of talent they have scalding the ball like that on a regular basis, good things are going to happen.
And they did. Boston was smoking the ball for the final three games, combining for nine homers in the game. People like to say you need small ball to win in the postseason, and it’s certainly not bad to have that situational aptitude in your back pocket, but the truth is you need runs however you can get them. Hitting the ball over the fence is a surefire way to get runs across, and Boston was able to do that in cold October Boston air.
Kiké Hernández was certainly the most obvious contributor, smacking nine hits and getting the ball in the air when he needed to on Monday to finish things off. But he wasn’t the only guy swinging a hot bat. Kyle Schwarber had a big home run and was an on-base machine. Christian Vázquez hit the walk-off on Sunday and also had three hits in Game Two, which flew a bit under the radar. J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers, who both entered this series banged up, each made big contributions in both getting on base and hitting for power. Alex Verdugo showed up in a big way. The list goes on and on, and it was a well-balanced and powerful machine.
We still don’t know who the Red Sox will be facing for this ALCS, but whether it’s Chicago or Houston they will be going up against strong pitching. Boston is going to need their bats to stay locked in, and they’re going to need this offense to keep pushing their path further and further beyond where it’s expected to lead. And it really seems like these three days off, which are much-needed for the pitching, may be the only thing that can slow them down.